Sometimes all it takes is a little guidance to spark a new passion.
With the help of a few experts from the University of Guam, local high school students recently walked away from a national summer fellowship with a new fire for science and research.
Incoming freshmen Siena Aguon and Serena Barasi and John F. Kennedy High School seniors Nicholas Camacho and Janice Lee spent two months over the summer engaged in the Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons, or STEP-UP, fellowship.
Under the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers separate STEP-UP programs to high school and college students. The goal of the programs is to provide an opportunity for these budding scientists from ethnic groups underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral research to get their feet wet.
Over the last nine years, professors from the University of Guam have dedicated their time and expertise to guide these young minds, helping them ask the right questions that lead to new discoveries.
“I mentor young, aspiring researchers because I’ve been there,” said Dr. Yvette Paulino, associate professor of Health Sciences. Paulino was one of four UOG professors to mentor the high school students who participated in the program.
“My excellent mentors were those that inspired and challenged me to go the distance, and I’ve infused some of their best mentoring characteristics into my personal toolkit,” she said. “I mentor to pay it forward.”
Through these programs, students achieve a head start to college-level research and study. Participating in these programs allows for incoming freshmen to feel more comfortable both in the classroom and laboratory.
“Because of this experience, I feel more confident in my research skills,” said Aguon. “Knowing that my mentor is a professor at UOG, I can go back and ask her more questions about how she entered her career and what it’s like doing more advanced research.”
Giving back to the community is infused within the university’s mission. Faculty bring an incredible wealth of knowledge and experiences, particularly as research scholars, that they want to share with their young mentees.
“Our responsibility here at UOG is to leverage the capabilities of our faculty to build a pipeline of capacity for our young scholars,” said Dr. Anita Borja Enriquez, senior vice president of Academic and Student Affairs. “These students bring not only a fresh perspective to these areas of interest but also meaning that creates a broader benefit to the overall community.”
Research projects conducted by the students ranged from detailed comparisons between Chamorros and other ethnic groups in terms of end-stage renal disease to introspective studies on the future of traditional Chamorro healing practices.
“My mentee assisted me with research on traditional healing,” said associate professor of Social Work Dr. Tricia Lizama. “She got to spend several days a week at the Guam Yo’amte (house of traditional healers). Research can be daunting for many, but I think that is because it can be misunderstood. By mentoring young adults, our faculty can show them that the impact of their research is significant and can change lives.”
Barasi and Lee also traveled to Washington, D.C. on Aug. 5 to 10 to present the findings of their projects at the national symposium.
For more information on the high school or the college STEP-UP program, visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. (PR)